Finally, Trump has cleared the air by suddenly agreeing to meet up with Kim Jong-un. Speculations and debates have been circling around on whether this visit is a right move for the White House. This is our own thoughts on this occasion.
While rockets got bigger and sanctions became tougher in 2017, an enthusiastic group of local frontier entrepreneurs continued launching startups that make life better for people in the DPRK. Our latest Annual Report describes the challenges we faced and progress we made in one of the most difficult geopolitical environments in the world.
We mentioned previously that North Korea is likely to send a high level delegation to South Korea for the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Depending on how talks went during the opening ceremony and in the interim, we could see either public shunning by the United States of the North Korea delegation or on the other extreme, a public gesture between Ivanka Trump and the North Koreans.As North Korea is still unlikely to contemplate denuclearization, it seems that the negotiation continues. Some things to note in the run-up to the closing and at the closing:
Many of our teammates were glued to their screens watching the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony. While it is still hard to see a breakthrough between the US and DPRK on this trip, we are at least glad to see some form of high-level inter-Korean interaction that might facilitate US-DPRK talks. We think the following are some key political themes from Pyeongchang:
As the Ecosystem Strategy Lead at Choson Exchange, my role was to understand North Korea’s business landscape, research the dynamics of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems across the globe, and develop a perspective on how Choson Exchange can best support North Korean entrepreneurs by helping our partners develop an ecosystem in North Korea.
It was a chilly November morning in Pyongyang, and after three consecutive days of workshops with over a hundred North Korean entrepreneurs, we were ready for some sightseeing. Our partners extended an invitation to visit the Gold Cup food processing plant on the outskirts of the city and we were happy to accept, particularly as some of our workshop attendees were employed there.
Teaching startup skills and business knowledge to the frontier entrepreneurs of North Korea is often one of the most amazing things our volunteers have done. The recent Pyongsong Startup Bootcamp was particularly interesting: Instead of just telling us about their ideas, North Korean participants presented working prototypes and products they had already launched, looking for advice on how to improve their offerings.
We bring volunteers to train North Korean entrepreneurs inside the country. As such, any de-escalation of tensions is good news to us. Inter-Korean talks began Tuesday morning at the DMZ. While talks are good, they are only a start. In this case, the crux of the issue is still the nuclear/ICBM standoff, and these talks are only a starting point to find a way to resolve the issue. Without compromise on some or all sides, this precious momentum could still easily stall. But as David Carden, the first US resident Ambassador to Southeast Asia points out, sometimes talking about an expanded range of issues alongside the core issue could create negotiating space.
Every new year day, DPRK or North Korea publishes a New Year’s Address from Kim Jong Un that sets the focus for the year ahead. Much has been said on two aspects: Kim Jong Un’s “nuclear button”, a deterrence message (“I will launch my weapons at a notice if you threaten me”) and the rapprochement aspect with South Korea. Some consider the suggested North Korean attendance at Pyeongchang an off-ramp now that North Korea has achieved a threshold deterrence capability, while others consider it a peace offensive meant to split the US-South Korea-Japan alliance.
From the moment you board the flight from Beijing, things feel different. Like any flight, you expect to have to set your phone to airplane mode, but the feeling of going off-grid is tangible. A final “see you in week!” text and Facebook update as the plane pushes away from the gate, and an air of resignation when the attendant asks you politely to switch off. Some speculatively check for coverage upon landing at Pyongyang Sunan airport, but as foreign SIM cards can’t connect to the local network, there isn’t much point.